I’ve officially been freelancing for a year as of today.
What started as a bit of a gamble on the back of 2 month’s redundancy money from Natural England, has become an adventure that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
Here’s a recap of the story so far, and what I’ve learnt along the way…
My first 2 months
I’d been working on a project in my free time whilst I was still working at Natural England. My previous manager Pete Johnstone had left the company and approached me to set up a website for his new startup, PJ.elements.
It was an amazing feeling when my first ever website went live. Built first in plain old HTML/CSS and then recreated again in Drupal, I’m still proud of this website today.
My first hand crafted website went live today. Feedback appreciated! http://t.co/6Lx0UAPf
— Dan Kemp (@KoinoniaWeb) September 16, 2011
My first official piece of paid freelance work came after I joined the underscore mailing list, a great way of networking with other web people in Bristol.
Kudos to Steve Kirtley for taking a chance on me. I learnt a lot coding some Facebook pages for a secret high-profile client!
In the meantime, I’d been building a portfolio site, which was helping me understand Drupal or the more. I’ve since morphed that site into this one, built in WordPress. It’s useful to get to grips with different content management systems.
In December I got in touch with another ex-manager from Natural England who was starting out as a consultant, and we agreed my first large-scale (paid) website build. Although it didn’t get launched until March, this was a solid project, and the first site I’d built using responsive design.
The redundancy money runs out…
Into January, and I was well aware that the 2 months of grace was running thin. I did a little job for Spitfire Recruitment but I was going to have to find something more substantial.
If your looking for a fantastic Freelance Web Designer follow @KoinoniaWeb excellent with idea's and designs, great guy 2 know and work with
— Spitfire Recruitment (@Spitfireltd) January 18, 2012
Not really freelancing, is it?
All of a sudden I get a call from Frank Hutton at recruitment agency AdLib. I’d had an interview before Christmas for an e-comms position at City of Bristol College, and although originally they went with someone else, that hadn’t worked out and now they wanted me! 3 days a week!
So excited to be involved in the redesign and relaunch of @CoBCollege website. It's going to be great.
— Dan Kemp (@KoinoniaWeb) January 26, 2012
So, here I was, pretty much fully employed, although now both roles were PAYE, so not exactly freelancing anymore. Although to be starting two new jobs at the same time, and working alternate days on each, it sure felt different to how I was used to working.
Finding the balance
I was now in the groove of working full time, getting to grips with SharePoint 2010 for the College, and enjoying life in Worcester (if not the commute). I was no longer finding time to update my blog or Twitter, but that didn’t matter too much.
In March, a new opportunity came up, thanks to a referral from my friend Kalun Lau, from Hong Kong.
TV Adventurer Rob Lilwall was looking to redesign his website, which he uses to promote his books and speaking service.
— Dan Kemp (@KoinoniaWeb) March 24, 2012
I was somewhat caught in two minds about this project – I knew it would be a fantastic site to work on and a great opportunity. On the other hand I knew I would have only evenings and weekends to work on it.
In the end, it was a month of intense, hard work with a satisfying result, but I think it’s fair to say I won’t commit to a project that involves me having to work this way again.
After this project, I had a 2 week holiday and pretty much focused on working for the Diocese of Worcester and City of Bristol College.
The College site launched last month and I’m now settled into a period of actual freelance work! I’m doing more work for Rob Lilwall and Pete Johnstone, and I have other projects in the pipeline.
What have I learnt?
- Being freelance is scary, but fun. I really enjoyed the buzz of going into the office at City of Bristol College and knowing I could bring something useful to them, but without the commitment of being tied there. I’m not looking to climb a career ladder, so this kind of troubleshooting / consultancy role really suits me.
- You have to achieve a balance. Yes, I do work a lot of evenings, but not to the same degree as I did in March when I basically tried to do 3 jobs at the same time. I’m probably still working on the balance, particularly in terms of how much of my thought-life goes into thinking about ‘my business’.
- Keep track of your time. I’ve definitely under-estimated and over-worked on my first freelance projects. These days I use FreeAgent (which I highly recommend) to track time, invoices, banking etc.
- Quote with confidence. It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve come to the point where I know what my time/skills are worth, so I don’t feel the need to try and under-price to try and secure the job. I recently missed out with a bid to build the new Bristol Cathedral website. It would have been my biggest job to date. But I know that my quote was honest and true, and if they choose to turn it down, that’s their choice.
- It’s about who you know. I’ve tried to keep networking – I’ve been to things like the Bristol Web Folk talk nights, the Freelancer’s Breakfast, Bristol Skillswap and other such things. But definitely the best network, in terms of new work and general support, has been from my friends at the Koinonia Facebook group. Their support has been invaluable (thanks guys).
Most of all, if I didn’t know it before, I know it now more than ever:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
In other words, don’t worry.